The Chicago Sun-Times has reported on the arrest of Jeanette Neibauer, a long-time clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County. She stands accused of taking files home and shredding them. She is accused of tampering with court files and official misconduct. Her bond has been set at $750,000.
Ms. Neibauer worked in the Law Division, the division of the Court that handles large-sized lawsuits seeking monetary compensation ($30,000 and up). My understanding is that she was most recently the clerk for Judge Ronald Bartkowicz, who has an individual Commercial Calendar in addition to hearing Law trials.
A Law Division case often involves sensitive medical and financial records or trade secrets. It is the duty of the clerks and other courtroom personnel (as well as attorneys and their staff) to adhere to strict confidentiality rules.
It has yet to be revealed what documents Ms. Niebauer is accused of shredding, how long she is alleged to have been shredding documents, or what she is alleged to have been doing with documents prior to her shredding.
Keep in mind that in civil litigation, each parties are required to tender copies of each filing to each litigant, and that each litigant will maintain copies of their own filings as well. So that means that each party to the lawsuit should have a complete copy of everything that belongs in the court file.
On the other hand, Cook County has been slow to adopt electronic filing, or to scan in all filings, as they do in neighboring DuPage and Kane Counties. This would alleviate the need for a court filed stuffed with paper filings.
Assuming that she was taking documents home to shred, it is unclear what her motivation was. Was she simply destroying documents that were file duplicates to save herself extra filing work? Was she taking home depositions to read and destroying them to cover her tracks? Did her actions affect any litigants? Or, what I am sure is everyone’s worst nightmare, was she using the information in the documents for her own personal gain? We don’t know at this point, and she is presumed innocent of any charges pending trial.
Hopefully, there is an innocent explanation and Ms. Neibauer can be set free.